History Repeats Itself: A bear takes on the Beast


Last year going into only my second Spartan Race /OCR race ever, I approached the starting line with confidence and perhaps even a little disrespect for the sport and it’s athletes. I don’t totally blame myself for my mislead arrogance as just three weeks prior I had beat the unbeatable Hobie Call by 6 minutes on what was being touted as perhaps the toughest Spartan race ever in Wintergreen, VA.

There I stood on the starting line with voices of confidence ringing through my head, filling my body and mind with every bit of physiological strength I needed to scoop up $15,000, call myself world champion and sit back and wait for the other athletes to make their way to the finish line.

About half way into the race I was in second, passing Cody Moat and enjoying a ten minute lead over eventual race winner. 5 minutes later I was experiencing full body cramping, and attempting to do 30 burpees, which took me over 10 minutes and then, after limping along the edge of a frigid lake with chilled wind slapping my wet skin, I found myself in the fetal position starting the process of acute hyperthermia.

We either learn from history and correct our mistakes or perhaps something different.

On that day in 2013 I became a Spartan. I somehow finished that race and lost all desire to pursue all of my past sports. My bikes hang from the ceiling with dust, my running shoes haven’t seen the road for 365 days, my motorcycle is still clean with stale fuel and my skis haven’t felt anything but the temperature of my garage through the whole snow filled epic ski season of Alaska.

I vowed on that day to study this sport; I awarded myself an imaginary doctorate on anti-cramping procedures, I delved into the anomaly of how a 200 pound Hunter McIntyre can beat a 130 pound Max King one day and then on another day they could switch spots on the podium. I pondered, learned, interviewed Olympians and their coaches and even was honored to be coached for 6 months by Joe Desena himself.

Just 3 days ago to this hour I went through the second bucket bigrade chasing the podium. I was fueled properly, hydrated well, and had started slow and steady. I was working with Max King, Hunter, and Isaiah Vidal. I had just dropped them and my confidence was brimming. Joe saw me and said, “you need to make your move.” I looked him right in the eyes and yelled, “how far back am I and how much climbing is left?” He said 5 minutes back and plenty of climbing for you to work your magic. ”

I knew I had about an hour to go and I started getting splits on the guy climbing in front of me. 1:30, 1:10, :35… as he passed yet another tree I was using as a marker, giving myself splits. I flew by him with ease and trampled down 1000 feet of precarious descent and turned a sharp corner, thinking, “this course might be too easy, perhaps the smaller ultra runners in front of me could win.”

Matt Novakovich

But assumed opportunity was there and my hopes seemed gifted, as I looked up and saw 800 feet of 45 percent graded death-march, with two 45 pound sand bags for us to carry. I looked up and saw the podium athletes struggling in front of me waiting to be passed. Imaginary Eminem music started ringing through my head as I grabbed the sand bags and hefted them on my construction worker strengthened back and started the grind.

Within 50 yards I lost my strength, my grip and my momentum. The bags hit the gound with a thump and I quickly attempted to lift them again. I couldn’t. I grabbed them and carried them at my chest like 2 enormous babies and then dropped them again with only 50 more yards covered. The next 30 minutes of those sand bags could take up paragraphs but lets just say, I absolutely fatigued my legs and lost all grip strength. I knew trouble was lurking and for me trouble is cramps.

With only ten percent of the race remaining, I found myself asking those stupid self-reflection questions we don’t want to be asking ourselves in a race as I was leaning against a tree alone in the forest waiting for the cramps to subside. They didn’t.

I went from 4th to 11th during that last “little” bit. I did more burpees in a one mile stretch than I’ve done in a year of 24 Spartan races, and I would watch with pride (that only Spartans can understand) as each of my fellow friends and what I could now call family passed me by with encouraging words. I remember the specific words spoken and everyone of them was something of, can I help? Are you ok? Keep moving! Isaiah Vidal, Hunter McIntyre, Glen Race, Chad Trammel, Brakken Kraker, and finally James Appleton who specifically offered to cross the finish line and wait for my eternal pace over the final 50 yards.

So what have I learned?

Cramping: probably code for I’m not trained enough or talented enough to hold the pace required to beat a collection of perhaps the fittest athletes on the planet.

Age: I’m 40 and reminded of it almost weekly when my good friend Hunter calls to tease me about using a walker for safety reasons while crossing the street. But seriously, age is only a number. I’m fitter than I was when I ran in college 20 years ago. The secret? Consistently being consistent taking care of ourselves.

Setting Goals: I claimed publicly I would win this year. I’ll make the same announcement for 2015. I will win worlds next year. If I don’t believe it myself, who will? No one got me out of bed, told me to climb mountains in the snow and rain, train until I collapsed in a puddle of my own sweat, took over 100 cold showers, spent thousands of dollars building obstacles, allowed myself to feel hungry to prepare my physique, etc, etc.

Set big goals and all of us will reach new levels. Proclaim it and believe it yourself; oftentimes you might be the only one doing so.

Overall I’m pretty pissed about the race, yet in the same sentence extremely proud to have attempted it. I believe Spartan racing is a phenomenal opportunity to reach new heighths athletically and to challenge ourselves daily. I thank ‪#‎Reebok‬, ‪#‎Spartan‬, ‪#‎NBC‬, ‪#‎Beetelite‬ and Joe Desena for the faith, time and money they invested in me in the last year. What a privilege and magnificent journey it has been. Thank you to my family, especially Tiffanie who has endured my countless hours of training, countless trips, (ok I can count them…18) to be apart of this amazing group of people who make up this crazy and wildly growing sport of Obstacle Course Racing. Until next time, Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!


Originally posted on Matt Novakovich’s Facebook page

Matt Novakovich 4


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